Spending the afternoon at a baseball game is a favorite American pastime, but the increasing number of children with an autism spectrum disorder has left more and more families out of the tradition. The loud and exciting atmosphere that draws most families to the games is exactly what makes these outings difficult for autistic children to enjoy. Rich sensory experience like this can be too much for the autistic mind to make sense of, leaving kids feeling frustrated and scared. Dr. Wendy Ross, a developmental pediatrician and founder of the nonprofit Autism Inclusion Resources, has been dedicating her work to making these experiences easier for autistic children, and the results have been hopeful for many families.
Autism Inclusion Resources helps families prepare their autistic children for successful interactions with sporting events, trips to the museum, and airplane travel, with the goal of making social settings easier to navigate. While part of the solution is preparing children for what to expect in these environments ahead of time, educating the public to understand the needs of autistic children and how to interact with them can be equally important. Staff at the Philadelphia Phillies partnered with Dr. Ross’ nonprofit, who trained everyone from vendors to ticket takers on the needs of autistic children and their families. This training enhanced staff’s understanding on how to interact with autistic children, and created a more inclusive environment in the stadium. This simple effort allowed families to feel more comfortable and welcome while rooting on their home team, and made more of these outings possible for families who would have been otherwise dissuaded from attending.
While Dr. Ross acknowledges the challenges to getting autistic children outside and involved in more social interactions, she knows these children will be better off in the long run if they confront their challenges and begin to develop their social skills as early and as often as possible. The strategies implemented by her nonprofit around the city of Philadelphia serve as a model that can be replicated by other cities, or at the very least, that can be adopted by other families. Together, we can help autistic children and their families participate more easily in the things we all enjoy.